Region’s Leaders Express Optimism: Latin American Countries Seek to Exchange Debt for Education
DELEGATES to the 14th Latin American-IberianSummit of Heads of State and Government, held in SanJosé Nov. 19-20, confronted pre-dawn earthquakes,controversy over Cuba, and suggestions that the lowestsummit attendance by heads of state since 1991 impededleaders’ ability to make significant progress.Despite these challenges, representatives fromSpain, Portugal and all Latin American nationsexpressed optimism about the summit’s accomplishments,and Costa Rican officials said that other thanSaturday morning’s earthquake, which measured 6.2 onthe Richter scale (see separate article), all events wentaccording to plan.At the closing press conference at the Hotel Herradura northwest of San José, wheremost of the summit was held, leaderssigned the Declaration of San José. Its 37articles include an outline of steps towardthe formation of a Latin American-IberianGeneral Secretariat (SEGIB), and a resolutionto seek national debt forgiveness tofinance educational improvements.ACCORDING to the declaration, theForeign Ministers of all Latin Americanand Iberian countries will meet in Portugalearly in 2005 to designate a SecretaryGeneral, an Adjunct Secretary and aSecretary for Cooperation.In the declaration, the heads of state alsovowed to promote the new organization intheir respective countries, since each country’slegislature must ratify the SEGIB’sconstitution before it can take effect.Costa Rican President Abel Pacheco saidthe secretariat would help ensure decisionsmade at future summits become a reality.He later praised the commitment of thegovernment of Spain, a nation he referredto as “our mother and our brother,” to supportingthe secretariat. Spain has agreed tofund 85% of the office of the secretariat,with Latin American nations supplying theremaining 15% of operating costs.Spanish Prime Minister José LuisRodríguez Zapatero said the SEGIB’smajor responsibilities will include representingthe Latin America-Iberian communityon an international level.“The Secretariat will have a great dealof work, but it is work of great importance,”Zapatero said.Inter-American Development Bankpresident Enrique Iglesias has been mentionedas a likely candidate for theSecretary General position (TT, Nov. 19).EDUCATION was the other majorfocus of the summit, whose official themewas “Educate to Progress.” Article 22 ofthe Declaration of San José details thesigners’ commitment to promote “the conversionof a percentage of (our national)debts into investment in the educationalsystems of our countries.”Pacheco said the leaders “had agreed tomeet next year with the debt-holders whosupport our countries” with the goal ofpursuing partial debt forgiveness.While the details of this plan have yetto determined, Zapatero said in a pressconference he would hold a meeting inSpain next year between Latin Americancountries and their creditors to facilitatethis exchange “as soon as possible.”Leaders at the summit would not saywhich creditor countries would be willingto participate in the debt forgiveness/exchange program. Zapatero said Spain, asa creditor country, is committed to participating,but he did not specify any amountor percentage of debts the country wouldbe willing to cancel.Economists at the Central AmericanAcademy, a center of economic studybased in San José, believe the debt-foreducationprogram would be very beneficialfor developing countries.“If these resources are really dedicatedto improving education systems, it wouldbe achieving two important objectives:reducing the weight of the foreign debt andimproving the quality of education citizensreceive, which is extremely important forthe development of a country,” said academypresident Eduardo Lizano.Lizano added the Costa Rica has successfullybeen involved in similar debtexchange programs for the protection ofnature.THE San José event was the first LatinAmerican-Iberian Summit to include a legislativedelegation. Legislators from theSpanish Parliament said they had a productivemeeting with members of CostaRica’s Legislative Assembly and hope toincrease legislative participation in futuresummits.“At the summits, the voices of theheads of state are heard above all, but it isimportant that the voices of the people theyrepresent be heard as well,” Parliamentmember Delia Blancos said Saturday.Blancos and other Parliament memberssaid they hope to increase communicationand cooperation among the congresses ofall Latin American and Iberian countries.Other summit attendees includedQueen Sofia.The queen and the First Ladies inattendance held various meetings andmade an excursion to the famed artisantown of Sarchí, northwest of San José, forsome shopping on Saturday.ABSENT from the summit wereheads of state including the Presidents ofBrazil, Cuba, Chile and Venezuela.Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez cancelledhis trip to Costa Rica after DaniloAnderson, the prosecutor who headed theinvestigation of opposition leaders whounseated Chávez for 48 hours in a 2002coup, was assassinated Nov. 18 in a carbomb explosion.Leaders at the summit issued a specialstatement of solidarity with Venezuela inwhich they “energetically condemned theterrorist act perpetrated in Caracas.”Other statements released at the summitaffirmed participating nations’ supportfor anti-corruption efforts by the governmentsof Costa Rica and Ecuador, and confirmedthat Francisco Flores, formerPresident of El Salvador, is CentralAmerica’s candidate for the position ofSecretary General of the Organization ofAmerican States (OAS).The position was left open after formerCosta Rican President Miguel ÁngelRodríguez resigned amid allegations hereceived illegal payments from global telecommunicationsfirm Alcatel in connectionwith a contract Alcatel was awarded duringhis presidency. He is currently serving a preventivedetention order in Costa Rica whilehis case is investigated (TT, Oct. 22).COSTA Rica’s government invested$1.3 million in the summit, but ForeignMinister Roberto Tovar estimated lastweek that each of the 3,000 visitors,including 900 members of the press, wouldspend an average of $800, bringing in $2.4million in revenue for Costa Rica.According to Chief of Police WalterNavarro, heightened security for the eventhad at least 300 officers working aroundthe clock (TT, Nov. 19).Former Tico Times photographerJeffrey Arguedas, covering the summit for the Spanish news service EFE, said he wasbeaten by two police officers while trying toget to the summit after Saturday’s earthquake.The Public Security Ministry is investigatingthe allegations (see separate story).Public Security Ministry spokesmanSergio López said that aside from theArguedas incident, the summit went offwithout a hitch.“Everything went as planned,” he said.“There were protests, but they did notcause any problems.”ONE such protest occurred Fridaynight, when the delegations arrived for agala dinner and opening ceremony at theNational Theater in downtown San José.Traffic on Avenida Segunda, the mainthoroughfare in that part of the city, wasblocked off. Confused pedestrians andrerouted buses created a chaotic scene innearby streets.Just beyond the blockades on AvenidaSegunda, a huge group of protestors awaitedthe dignitaries’ arrival. University studentsand others, some decked out in CheGuevara T-shirts and a few in gas masks,carried signs bearing messages againstbureaucracy, corruption, U.S. blockadesagainst Cuba, and the Central AmericanFree-Trade Agreement with the UnitedStates (CAFTA).When vehicles could be seen approachingthe theater, a shout of “Here theycome!” prompted a rush toward the blockadesand a string of chants such as “Arriba,abajo, la Cumbre al carajo” (To hell withthe summit) and “Militares, policía, son lamisma porquería” (Soldiers, police, thesame old filth).MARÍA Isabel Fallas, coordinator ofthe Costa Rican Committee of Solidaritywith Cuba, stood back from the crowd andsaid her group’s participation was not aprotest, but a show of support for theCuban delegation to the summit.“Education proposals made by Cubandelegates were very well received at thesummit,” she said. “They were approved –I just hope they don’t stay on paper.”She added Costa Rica would do well toheed the suggestions from the Cuban delegation,since “the education system here isvery bad.” She cited poor exam resultsand large class sizes as problems in publicschools in Costa Rica.CONTROVERSY over Cuba held thespotlight in the days leading up to the conference.On Nov. 17, protestors enteredthe Legislative Assembly’s Hall of Ex-Presidents and interrupted a forumdesigned to express opposition to theregime of Cuban President Fidel Castro,who did not attend the summit. The forumwas cancelled partway through.Former Costa Rican President LuisAlberto Monge (1982-1986) presidedover the forum, along with the vice-presidentof the Senate of the Czech Republicand ex-Presidents of El Salvador andUruguay.Fallas said it was inappropriate for theforum to be held in a government building,since it implies that the Costa Rican governmentsupports the forum’s anti-Castrostance.The government of Cuba apparentlyagreed. On Thursday, the Cuban Consu-latedenounced the Costa Rican government forallowing the forum to take place in a governmentbuilding, and accused Costa Ricaof being an accomplice of the United States,the daily La Nación reported.Costa Rican officials responded bysaying the assembly’s facilities have traditionallybeen used by a variety of groups,and that the use of the Ex-Presidents’ Halldid not represent an endorsement of anti-Castro views by the Executive orLegislative branches.THE summit was not without its shareof humor. According to the daily Al Día,when asked how Juan Carlos I, the King ofSpain, had reacted to Saturday’s earthquake,President Pacheco imitated theroyal visitor’s Spanish accent and said theking initially thought a train was passingclose by his room.At the summit’s closing ceremonySaturday, President Pacheco’s solemnspeech was interrupted by a voice singingover the loudspeakers. Momentarily confused,Pacheco paused, looked around theroom and complimented the singer’svoice, drawing a laugh from the assembleddignitaries. The bizarre musical interlude,whose source remained a mystery, stoppedand the ceremony continued.THE next Latin American-IberianSummit will be held in Salamanca, Spain,in October 2005, the same month that KingJuan Carlos I will celebrate the 30thanniversary of his coronation.(Tico Times reporter Rebecca Kimitchcontributed to this report).
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